Reviewed by Lee Klein
John Ashbery's recent collection of poetry"Your Name Here" shows him at the hieght of his powers not as a surrealist but as a surrealist/realist. Therein he indeed throws the proverbial cow up over the moon as might any symbolic bard of the unlikeley. However he grounds his world and words of dreams with ration through point and counterpoint. It is like a game of tennis with the serve and volley game between logic and morpheus producing slicing backhands on poetry's center court.
This writer when presented with a full course meal during working hours might skip the salad and potatoes and cut right into the prime rib. The choicest cut of meat for him while so occupied is to watch a writer or poet like Ashbery come around the turn a place where he touches upon a word or idea he himself might be working on. Such as in the poem"Conventional Wisdom" where he writes"Although I have known you for a long time/it seems as though we hardly know each other at all/It was as rehearsal for coming to be in time/that leaves are aslant"`. Just as I was tryng to describe for one of my own works how a geometric effect involving a pattern in stonework tranforms into diaganols here was Ashbery's simple use of the slight yet appropriate word aslant. It was as if a minute yet essential line isued forth from the pencil of a seasoned and superb draughtsman. Indeed it could often seem to one in quest for the more apt turn of phrase for picturing ones inner thoughts in verse that many of one's comtemporaries may be dry reservoirs, whereas, Ashbery is of that quality of work for another poet that he is akin to a water supply.
His expertise does not stop there. Stunning lines rip through see-saw poems coming in like last minute ballots with a bullet. In"More Hocketing" he says"let those who have never denatured another's remark swim in wit now". Such a line could only be written by a man for whom the business of words is a prolonged and serious affair with consequences and results. His turf is the word and it is it's own currency as well. Thus much of Ashbery currency lays in his ability to be particular while not being particular at all. In"Amnesia Goes to the Ball" Ashbery sort of exhibits himself invoking his own aesthetic "Modular Sex was what it actually says. This starts me off on a new train of ideas, complete with gambling and smoking lounges. I am not to capiltalize on this moment. It has already been particularized". All through this volume people and places are named. However they are never so connected as to place them. So therefore the poet can in effect allow you to be the agent of your own recconect.